"May Saint Jonathan protect you, Mr. Gaydon!" he continues in his clear, ringing voice. "You are not, I presume, disposed to regret the fortunate circumstance by which you were permitted to visit this surpassingly marvellous cavern--and it really is one of the finest, although the least known on this spheroid."
This word of a scientific language used in conversation with a simple hospital attendant surprises me, I admit, and I merely reply:
"I should have no reason to complain, Mr. Serko, if, after having had the pleasure of visiting this cavern, I were at liberty to quit it."
"What! Already thinking of leaving us, Mr. Gaydon,--of returning to your dismal pavilion at Healthful House? Why, you have scarcely had time to explore our magnificent domain, or to admire the incomparable beauty with which nature has endowed it."
"What I have seen suffices," I answer; "and should you perchance be talking seriously I will assure you seriously that I do not want to see any more of it."
"Come, now, Mr. Gaydon, permit me to point out that you have not yet had the opportunity of appreciating the advantages of an existence passed in such unrivalled surroundings. It is a quiet life, exempt from care, with an assured future, material conditions such as are not to be met with anywhere, an even climate and no more to fear from the tempests which desolate the coasts in this part of the Atlantic than from the cold of winter, or the heat of summer. This temperate and salubrious atmosphere is scarcely affected by changes of season. Here we have no need to apprehend the wrath of either Pluto or Neptune."
"Sir," I reply, "it is impossible that this climate can suit you, that you can appreciate living in this grotto of----"
I was on the point of pronouncing the name of Back Cup. Fortunately I restrained myself in time. What would happen if they suspected that I am aware of the name of their island, and, consequently, of its position at the extremity of the Bermuda group?
"However," I continue, "if this climate does not suit me, I have, I presume, the right to make a change."
"The right, of course."
"I understand from your remark that I shall be furnished with the means of returning to America when I want to go?"
"I have no reason for opposing your desires, Mr. Gaydon," Engineer Serko replies, "and I regard your presumption as a very natural one. Observe, however, that we live here in a noble and superb independence, that we acknowledge the authority of no foreign power, that we are subject to no outside authority, that we are the colonists of no state, either of the old or new world. This is worth consideration by whomsoever has a sense of pride and independence. Besides, what memories are evoked in a cultivated mind by these grottoes which seem to have been chiselled by the hands of the gods and in which they were wont to render their oracles by the mouth of Trophonius."
Decidedly, Engineer Serko is fond of citing mythology! Trophonius after Pluto and Neptune? Does he imagine that Warder Gaydon ever heard of Trophonius? It is clear this mocker continues to mock, and I have to exercise the greatest patience in order not to reply in the same tone.
"A moment ago," I continue shortly, "I wanted to enter yon habitation, which, if I mistake not, is that of the Count d'Artigas, but I was prevented."
"By whom, Mr. Gaydon?"
"By a man in the Count's employ."
"He probably had received strict orders about it."
"Possibly, yet whether he likes it or not, Count d'Artigas will have to see me and listen to me."
"Maybe it would be difficult, and even impossible to get him to do so," says Engineer Serko with a smile.
"Because there is no such person as Count d'Artigas here."
"You are jesting, I presume; I have just seen him."
"It was not the Count d'Artigas whom you saw, Mr. Gaydon."
"Who was it then, may I ask?"
"The pirate Ker Karraje."
This name was thrown at me in a hard tone of voice, and Engineer Serko walked off before I had presence of mind enough to detain him.